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Staff photo by Emily Crisman / Mike Lytle, assistant director of the forensic services division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, testifies during the trial of Janet Hinds.

Closing arguments concluded Thursday in the trial of Janet Hinds, the driver accused of hitting and killing Chattanooga police officer Nicholas Galinger.

Galinger, 38, was struck by a car on Feb. 23, 2019, while inspecting a manhole cover that had water flowing from it in the 2900 block of Hamill Road just after 11 p.m. The driver fled the scene.

Prosecution attorney Cameron Williams told the jury that despite witness statements that Hinds did not show obvious signs of intoxication that night, it was ultimately Hinds' responsibility to recognize that she was impaired.

"It's not their duty to babysit the defendant," Williams said. "She is the only one who knew how much she had to drink. It's her duty to make sure she's OK to drive, and she didn't do that.

"The severity of the accident was incredible," Williams said. "It launched a 5-foot-10 man over the roof of a vehicle and 160 feet in another direction. That doesn't happen when you hit a sign."

He referenced medical examiner Dr. Stephen Cogswell's testimony Wednesday that Galinger's injuries indicate that he hit the windshield face-first and that his injuries also were consistent with those of a pedestrian hit by a car going 45 to 55 miles per hour. The speed limit on Hamill Road is 35 mph.

"We know that his head was stuck in the windshield because his hair is sitting there," Williams said. "How do you not see a piece of a man's scalp on your steering column?"

He stated that Hinds was familiar with the road and its problems, and that knowledge proved the recklessness of her actions.

Williams said that even though Hinds did not take a field sobriety test or a blood test to prove intoxication, her leaving the scene is evidence of impairment.

"If you get into an accident that does the damage that happened to her vehicle, you stop," Williams said. "You don't drive 5 miles with your car looking like that."

Defense attorney Ben McGowan said the prosecution's case was "so tenuous, and so weak in its regards because of who the victim is."

"We're looking at a case that was created and brought about because of the status of the individual involved," he said of Galinger.

The defense has suggested it was hard to see on that road that night, and police actions didn't help. Williams said it was insulting to the jury for Jarrod Justice, the field training officer with Galinger the night of the crash, to claim he didn't turn on his blue lights because they would be distracting.

He questioned whether the defendant should have known there was a "substantial risk" that someone would be standing in the road that night, wearing black and bending down to pick up a sign.

"Punishing someone for an accident will do nothing to bring back this poor officer's life," McGowan said.

In his closing argument, District Attorney Neal Pinkston said Galinger "had every right to be in the roadway."

"He's allowed to do his job, serving his community," Pinkston said. "She was out drinking and driving."

Earlier Thursday, the defense called witnesses, including Traci Phillips, Hinds' longtime friend and mother of Hinds' daughter-in-law, Melissa Hinds. Phillips said she was the last person to see Janet Hinds before she left the restaurant where they were drinking the night of the crash, and Hinds did not appear drunk.

Chattanooga court clerk's office administrator Joyce Allen, who processes property bonds, was called by the defense to confirm that such bonds are only available Monday through Friday.

Property bonds allow a person with property in Hamilton County to post bond using their property to secure a release after arrest, she said.

McGowan told the court that he was calling the witness to show the jury that Hinds waited until Monday to turn herself in not because she was fleeing, but because she planned to use a property bond to secure her release.

 

Wednesday's testimony

On Wednesday Chattanooga police officer Joe Warren, lead investigator in the case and crash reconstruction expert, testified that the distance Galinger was thrown upon impact indicates that the driver who hit him was speeding.

"He was thrown 160 feet, which was absolutely unexpected on a surface street," Warren said, adding that he typically only sees pedestrians thrown that great a distance on an interstate, where speeds are higher.

The defense raised concerns about Warren's objectivity in the case and accused him of violating department policy on pretrial publicity with posts on his personal Facebook about the case. Warren said he has since deactivated his account.

Defense attorney Ben McGowan also questioned why Warren did not formally interview Justice, Galinger's field training officer who was on the scene, as well as the drivers who came upon the scene immediately after the car hit Galinger.

Also testifying Wednesday was Mike Lytle, a prosecution witness who shared his calculation of the likely blood alcohol content for Hinds, who did not remain at the crash site and therefore was not tested.

The state said she was intoxicated, and video taken at the Ringgold, Georgia, restaurant Farm to Fork from 7-10:30 p.m. that night shows Hinds drinking 76 ounces of beer and a lemon drop vodka shot before getting behind the wheel.

Lytle, assistant director of the forensic services division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, estimates that her blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was between .14% and .18%. The legal limit in Georgia and Tennessee is .08%.

Lytle used a method called retrograde extrapolation to estimate what Hinds' blood alcohol content was at the time of the crash.

"We use what's called the Widmark equation to calculate a person's potential alcohol level based upon that person's size and dosage," Lytle testified Wednesday.

He plugged in averages to the mathematical model to arrive at his conclusion.

The defense argued that the weight of 150 pounds used in the calculation for Hinds was inaccurate, as her weight taken during her intake screening after turning herself in Feb. 25 was 168 pounds. McGowan also argued that other factors used in the equation were not necessarily true of Hinds.

According to McGowan's calculations using Hinds' weight of 168.8, the estimate of her alcohol level at the time of the crash would have been .04-.08.% — at or under the legal limit.

Jury deliberations begin Friday in Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole's courtroom.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com.

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